How Ross & Shoalmire’s Texarkana Estate Planning Lawyers Use Client Questions to Write Stronger Wills

Everybody needs an estate plan, but far too few people ever take the time needed to draft a will, revise their beneficiary designations, or explore the benefits of a living trust. In many cases, simply figuring out how to get started—who to talk to, and what kinds of questions to ask—can seem difficult, especially when it means thinking about topics that most people would rather avoid.

However, estate planning isn’t just about preparing for the inevitable—it’s also an opportunity to preserve your legacy, protect your future, and keep your family safe from uncertainty. Below, we explain what questions to ask before writing a will, or send Ross & Shoalmire’s team of Texarkana Estate Planning Attorneys a message online to take action today. 

3 Big Reasons You Can’t Afford to Put Off Writing Your Will 

Creating an estate plan could easily seem like a serious, somber undertaking—maybe even one that’s best left for a later date. Although it’s true that making an estate plan is serious business, not having a will could leave your health, your wealth, and your family’s happiness in the hands of an impartial probate court bound by stringent rules and statutes. 

Here are three reasons you shouldn’t delay creating this essential part of a comprehensive estate plan. 

1. Prevent an Intestate Succession 

After you pass away, the fate of every asset you own could be decided by the terms of your estate plan. So unless you’ve already established a trust or taken other steps to protect your legacy, writing a will may be the only way to ensure your final wishes are respected.  

If you write a valid will, then probate—the court-supervised process of formally dissolving an estate—will likely take a predictable course: 

  1. Your executor files a petition to open probate in a Texas or Arkansas court. 
  2. After the petition is approved, your executor must mail notices of probate to all “interested parties”—your immediate relatives, your named heirs, and any creditors to whom you owed unpaid debt. 
  3. For probate to proceed, your executor must locate and inventory all assets subject to probate.  
  4. If any creditors submit claims against your estate, then your executor must assess each claim and decide whether to provide payment, negotiate a settlement, or deny the request. 
  5. Once the estate’s debts have been settled, your heirs receive their inheritances in accordance with the terms of your will. 

However, people who die without a will or any other estate plan are said to have died intestate. Since a Texas or Arkansas probate court will have had no way of knowing how the deceased person would have liked their estate redistributed, it uses state-specific intestacy statutes to determine who inherits which assets. In most cases, intestate succession only provides inheritance rights to certain surviving relatives, leaving little room for interpretation

2. Protect Your Health, Wealth, and Family 

Although this directive is most often used to make big decisions about heirs, assets, and inheritances, it serves a number of other purposes. In writing a will, you can:  

  • Explain the type and extent of care you would like to receive if you’re ever medically incapacitated or placed on life support. 
  • Nominate a guardian for your minor child or children. 
  • Include pour-over provisions redirecting unused assets to a living trust. 
  • Tell your heirs why you made certain inheritance-related decisions.  

3. Explore More Estate Planning Strategies 

For many families, writing a simple will provides peace of mind and a reasonable measure of protection against any unexpected challenges that might arise in probate. However, you may find that your wants, wishes, and aspirations are too big for a will. Fortunately, scheduling a consultation with a legal advisor gives you a chance to discuss which solutions work best for your estate and your family. 

4 Questions to Ask an Estate Planning Attorney Before Drafting Your Will 

Taking your first steps toward creating an estate plan could help protect your family’s peace of mind, especially if the questions you ask during your initial meeting with a Ross & Shoalmire Estate Planning Attorney explain your intent and broaden your horizons. Here are key topics to cover during your meeting. 

1. How Much Of Your Work Involves Estate Planning?  

When planning a will, you want a lawyer who’s intimately acquainted with the many rules, regulations, and court rulings that influence:  

Although writing a will might seem like a simple task, even minor mistakes could cause unexpected complications during probate. You’ll find hiring a lawyer whose everyday practice focuses on estate planning to help write your will is far more helpful than an attorney who specializes in resolving criminal cases or tax disputes. 

2. Should I Make a Will or Establish a Trust? 

A will is a powerful legal instrument that helps ensure your final wishes are respected. However, making a will the bedrock of your estate plan forces your family to negotiate the many pitfalls of probate—a typically expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally exhausting process. 

You could benefit from establishing a revocable living trust depending on your personal and financial circumstances. Trust assets, unlike those disbursed by a will, aren’t subject to probate. As such, heirs can receive inheritances without having to go to court.  

Furthermore, trusts give their founder—sometimes called the trustor or grantor—more flexibility in conditioning inheritances. If you leave cash or other assets to an heir, you can specify that your successor trustee only authorizes payments for approved expenses, such as college tuition payments or rent. 

3. How Do I Decide What Assets to Include in My Will? 

Your will can be used to dispose of most assets that are subject to probate, including: 

  • Your home
  • Motor vehicles
  • Personal possessions
  • Boats, trailers, and motorcycles 

However, just because you can use a will and testament to transfer a specific asset to an heir doesn’t mean you should. Establishing a trust-based estate plan might make more sense—and provide greater security—for people who value their family’s privacy, are anticipating a probate contest, or own property in another state.

4. Who Has Inheritance Rights? 

Probate courts in most states usually go to great lengths to ensure that a deceased person’s plainly stated wishes are afforded the respect that they deserve. This means that judges are often reluctant to invalidate a testament without compelling reason. But judges are also bound by the law—and it contains provisions that always overrule conflicting terms in your testament. 

For example, your estate might face complications if:  

  • You disinherit a child. Some states, like Arkansas, have pretermitted heir statutes —meaning that courts are legally required to assume that a child’s omission from a will was unintentional. In general, an Arkansas parent wishing to disinherit a child must include a clause in their will explicitly stating that they elected not to provide this person with an inheritance. 
  • You have an old will that you never revised or replaced. Major life events, such as marriage or divorce, almost always necessitate that you reach out to an estate planning attorney to revisit your will. 
  • Your will conflicts with other arrangements. Beneficiary designations permit the direct transfer of certain types of accounts and insurance policy proceeds upon the account- or policyholder’s death. They take precedence over the terms of a will. 

5 Questions Your Lawyer Might Ask to Help Understand Your Aspirations

Ross & Shoalmire’s Estate Planning Lawyers go to great lengths to build estate plans that survive the test of time while still reflecting your values, goals, and aspirations. During our first meeting, we’ll want to get to know you, too—not only as a client but also as an individual. To enhance our understanding of your objectives, we might ask questions such as:

  1. Who’s in your family? The terms of your will protect your interests and those of your heirs. Your family structure and history—if you’re married, have children, or were ever divorced—helps your attorney understand how to minimize misunderstandings and opportunities for contests when allocating inheritances. 
  2. If you have any minor children, who would you like to name as their guardian? Although thinking about your child growing up without you is inherently unpleasant, addressing the issue of guardianship ensures that a court doesn’t dictate your child’s future. 
  3. What do you hope to achieve or protect by writing a will? If you have specific aims—like paying for a child’s education or providing maintenance funds for a special needs relative—your attorney can determine how best to incorporate your objectives into your estate plan, whether through the will or another instrument. 
  4. What sorts of assets do you own? Small estates in Texas and Arkansas often qualify for simplified forms of probate, but more complex estates could make administration difficult if there’s a chance you might owe estate taxes. 
  5. Who do you want to administer your estate—an executor, or a lawyer? You can name almost any adult as executor of your estate, including a relative, a family friend, or an attorney. Ideally, your executor should be somebody you trust and capable of responsibly managing your estate assets

By working together to address these issues, we’ll help you leave a legacy that inspires your loved ones for generations.

Ben King
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Ben King helps clients in TX and AR with estate planning, asset protection, probate, and medicaid planning.
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